Plans changed and I have a day to kill with internet. So I got the music adventures done and here it is. Woohoo. Have fun.
Northern State - Dying In Stereo (2002)
I should be ashamed of myself for liking this record, but God help me I do. Three white girls from Long Island kickin' it old school. And I mean old school. They unabashedly use antiquated hiphop lingo like "ill", "fly", and "rock the party". If that's enough, they regularly do not conjugate the verb "be" when used in the present tense. It's snotty, bratty, and fun. Guinea Love, Hesta Prynn, and DJ Sprout rhyme in simple couplets laced with light social commentary and loaded with pop culture references over simple beats and scratches. Of course, I'm a huge Beasite Boys fan so this is right up my alley. If you have a good number of Run-DMC and Beastie Boys albums in your record collection, it'll be right up yours, too. Get the party started with "A Thousand Words" and keep it going to the break-a break-a dawn with "The Man's Dollar".
Pink - Try This (2003)
In a perfect world, Pink would be the queen of the new millenium divas. She doesn't have the multi-octave range of her peers but possesses a capacity to wring all manner of emotion with her unique, throaty vocals. Also, unlike her peers, she isn't content to settle for the same, tired R&B music tracks that offer little more than accompaniment. The music is rich, varied and will restore your faith in the possibilities of session musicians. Her first album was a breath of fresh air in the Barbie doll world of female vocalists and her second effort is just as impressive. She shrewdly laces it with a couple of radio friendly cuts that will placate her label's marketing staff. There are plenty of songs here that will appeal to the teen/pre-teen target audience and sell records, while the rest of the album yields a lot of surprises for the more discerning music lover. It might be of interest to point out that in addition to again collaborating with Linda Perry, she also hooked up with Tim Armstrong (of Rancid fame) for the majority of the songs on this record. I don't follow radio enough to know, but I'm guessing that "God Is A DJ" is the lead-off single for this album and it should be. It's uplifting, strong, and catchy as hell. But if you want to get a better appreciation of the capabilities of Pink, you're gonna hafta get past the singles. Take for instance
the hard rockin' "Try Too Hard" that makes Avril Lavigne look like the wannabe she is and is exactly the sort of song Courtney Love was trying to write for Celebrity Skin. Or there's "Unwind" which could easily be mistaken for a Horses-era Patti Smith song (if you don't believe me, listen to it, awready). Or the spooky, breathy "Oh My God" with some guest vocals from hipster-of-the-minute Peaches. For some real fun, the potty-mouthed untitled bonus track is a real hoot. I'm guessing the snide, vehemnt intoning of "You ain't nothin' but a hooker/Sellin your fuckin' soul" is probably aimed at Britney. Madonna may have passed the tongue, er, torch to Britney this year, but Pink is the only one of this generation's divas with the balls to actually wear that crown. This is an amazing record from start to finish - don't blow it off as mere bubblegum; it's well worth the listen.
The Black Keys - The Big Come Up (2002)
Like the White Stripes, The Black Keys are a two piece outfit of guitar and drums playing stripped down blues music. Unlike the White Stripes, there are no elements of country, pop, or punk. It's nothin' but the blues, raw and sloppy, packaged neatly into little two minute songs. No muss, no fuss. Try "The Breaks" and "Heavy Soul".
The Donnas - Spend the Night (2002)
I once said The Donnas were stuck in Remedial Ramones 101. That's not entirely accurate, they've actually graduated to Intermediate Kiss 220. A few years back, they recorded a couple of cover songs as B-sides and movie soundtracks. One was Alice Cooper's "School's Out" and the other was Ace Frehely's "Snowblind". There was no turning back after that. The charm of their early records as bad-ass girls playing simple, Ramones-inspired punk songs are long gone and have been replaced by cowbells, slinky bass lines and 70's hard rock riffs/soloing. This album is not unlike their last two, Get Skintight and Turn 21, in more ways than the obvious: that you can put their band name in front of the album title and it makes a sentence. The music is fuller, flaunting the kind of production that comes with big label record deals and they've gotten it into their heads that they're actually musicians or something. It's far from an unlistenable record, but like their songs of cartoonish, puerile lust and one night stands, you'll be lucky if the record spends more than one night in your CD player. But, judge for yourself with "All Messed Up" and "Too Bad About Your Girl".
Turbonegro - Scandinavian Leather (2003)
Turbonegro are legends in the Scandinavian rock scene, so much so that there has already been a tribute album of their music and it prompted them to "unbreakup" and record this new album. Yee-haw. Their style is reminiscent of 80's metal but with a definite punk influence. This record is not as strong as some of their other's, but it's no slouch either. Rock out with your cock out with "Train Of Flesh" and "Locked Down".
Digital Undergound - No Nose Job: The Legend Of Digital Underground (2001)
To the uninitiated, the title of this anthology my seem ironic. But they are fools, Digital Underground is certainly the stuff of legends. Don't believe me? Let's examine the facts. Fact 1: They had one of the biggest cross-over hiphop hits ever. Seriously, who does not know "The Humpty Dance"? More interestingly, it's a song sung by and about a person who doesn't even exist. Despite whatever rumor you heard at the time about how Humpty used to be a serious soul singer who was horribly disfigured in some freak accident that ruined his voice and nose, the fact is that Humpty is a figment of Digital Underground figurehead Shock G's overactive imagination. Fact 2: One of hiphop's most beloved martyrs, Tupac Shakur was briefly a member of the group. Fact 3: Probably more than any other hiphop outfit, they were responsible for creating what would become known as West Coast hiphop with it's laid-back beats and ample Parliament/Funkadelic samples - the foundation of the gangsta rap which permeates the airwaves today. It could be argued that The Chronic may not have been possible without Digital Underground. All that said, this record does a good job of presenting that legend in one nice collection. The only sore spots I find is the nasty remix of "Packet Man" and the truncation of the full dance mix of "Doowutchyalike", probably one of the best party records ever made. "Humpty Dance, "Freaks of the Industy", "Kiss You Back", "Same Song", "The Way We Swing", in short, all the essential DU songs are collected here without all of the dead weight which typified the bulk of their albums.
The Distillers - Coral Fang (2003)
A couple of years ago I was watching MTV2 and this video comes on of a punk trio fronted by this Converse-wearing chick with a mohawk and lip piercing. Naturally, I fell in love. The Distillers, I learned, was the band's name and the spikey-coifed lady in question happens to be married to Tim Armstrong, guitarist/creative force behind Rancid. Well, la-ti-da. Add to it that she has the sort of sore-throat growl that would make Courtney Love offer lozenges, an ear for writing solid, 1-2-3-4 punk confection, and can write a line like "They say this is the City of Angels/All I see are dead wings" - and you have a recipe for a damn good time. But that was the first album, Sing Sing Death House. The new one, Coral Fang covers some slightly new ground, and finds the band reaching a little, which is admirable but for a second album, it might not be most advisable. To wit, 12 minutes of the 42 minute record is the white noise opus "Deathsex" which, for a band whose forte is grinding out three minute punk songs, it smacks of self-indulgence, not to mention, it's just not very good. So what's left? Well there's nothing as immediately ear-popping as "The Young Crazed Peeling" except for possibly "Drain The Blood". Most of the album sounds like stuff that never made it on the first record, which is quite possible given thier heavy touring schedule in support of it. One other song of interest, is the attempt at writing a ballad, "The Hunger". If you're new to the Distillers, I'd recommend starting with the first record though. It's much stronger and fun. Starting here would possibly have you dismiss an otherwise good band.
Fugazi - 13 Songs (1990)
I've never been a huge fan of Fugazi. I think it's 'cos I was a Minor Threat fan first, and they, sir, were no Minor Threat. Fugazi has a lot of the same anger and passion but musically is a lot more pretentious. This comes with maturity, I know, and that's not to say that all of Fugazi is bad. But it's this blueprint that spawned the legions of emo bands which I detest with every fiber of my being. It's amazing that the members of Fugazi, in whole and in part, invented and inspired both hardcore and emo, making them quite possibly the single most influential group of motherfuckers on the planet. Even so, I've always liked this album, which is a collection of their first two EP's, and decided to revisit it this week. It has my favorite Fugazi song ("Suggestion") as well as their signature song ("Waiting Room"). Love them or hate them, Fugazi is a force to be reckoned with, if for nothing else, their historical significance, and 13 Songs is as good as it gets.
The Hellacopters - By The Grace Of God (2002)
Another one of them Scandinavian bands I'm all crazy about. Whereas Turbonegro has that gritty, leather-clad approach to rock and roll, The Hellacopters provide a much cleaner sound with more emphasis on solid melodic hooks, both vocally and musically. Hear why it's hot where it's usually so cold: "Better Than You" and "It's Good But It Just Ain't Right".
Leo Kottke - Mudlark (1971)
If you live in a college town, you've probably heard of Leo Kottke. He runs that same touring circuit as Bela Fleck and Keb Mo; small theatres and concert halls with intimate settings and good acoustics. What you may not know about him is that he's been releasing some of the most imaginative and bloody impressive guitar recordings since 1969. He is a mater of the instrument, both on 6 and 12 string. The thing I like about Kottke more so than Fleck or Mo is that he's so much harder to peg. Fleck's got his whole newgrass fusion and Mo with his blues noodling are failry easy to pigeonhole. Kottke is simply one of the best, classicaly trained guitarists playing pop music and all attempts to categorize him as jazz or blues or country fail because he's all of these and so much more. His 1971 Capitol Records debut album, Mudlark, is based very much in the blues and country. Kottke shows you what he can do with a slide on "Poor Boy" and provides a glimpse of his off-kilter musical humor on "Monkey Lust". Finally, for a true appreciation of his prowess on the instrument and his double picking style which sounds like two guitars being played instead of one, listen to the brief but beautiful instrumental "Stealing".
Save Ferris - It Means Everything (1997)
I'm no fan of ska-punk and quite frankly I'm glad that whole craze is over. This is by no means representative of that fad, nor is it an incredibly good record, but it has a song called "Goodbye" which I adore. I wouldn't rush out and get the record, but you should hear this song. If ska's your thing, you might like the rest of this record (their cover of "Come On Eileen" is of interest I suppose).
ZZ Top - Mescalero (2003)
With the first few bars of this record, you find yourself intrigued and want to hear more. The lead-off track, "Mescalero" with it's fuzzy bass, lyrics en espanol, Billy Gibbons' near-perfect-tone guitar solo, and xylophone solo makes you wonder that the boys in ZZ Top didn't mean Mescaline. As a whole, the album is so-so: there're more than enough weak spots to keep this from becoming a golden years classic for the Texas trio, but there's enough surprises from these old codgers to make for an entertaining listen like the swamp-boogie of "Alley Gator" and the funky-weird "Crunchy". I can never get enough of listening to Billy play. It's no wonder Hendrix was once quoted as saying he was his favorite guitarist. There are plenty of guitarists that are more flashy and more techincally gifted, but Gibbons squeals, squalls, and honks with an ear for tone that is seldom equalled or surpassed.